Archive for the “Improv” Category

Pyramid and Michelle Yom at Labotanica (Houston, TX)

This Friday, October 1st at 7pm, Michelle Yom will present her sound performance installation Back To Imagined Spaces at Houston’s alternative arts and music venue Labotanica located at 2316 Elgin Street. This is a part of Labotanica’s ongoing Hear/Her/Ear series spotlighting women in experimental music.

I got a chance to hear Michelle last month in a solo vocal set at Avant-Garden where she recorded and looped her singing in real time to additively build a series of haunting chorales. Michelle is perhaps best known as a flautist with a strong classical technique and the skills and imagination of a great improviser. Her flute and drums duo Doggebi features Michelle with drummer Spike The Percussionist – a musician I name checked in my Houston Mixtape #3: The Epicenter Of Noise – freely and (almost) breathlessly improvising music that is somehow stark yet filled with a minutiae of details.

Back To Imagined Spaces imagines the human body as a collection of cells that sing and are heard in a “self-imposed timeless space” contained within the pyramid Michelle has constructed inside Labotanica. Regarding the music she will perform, Michelle writes: “The first set is a series of staccato vocalizations with syllables from the mantra, Asato Ma Sad Gamaya, processed through seven delays. The second set will be a live performance of tonal pieces titled Heart, Ears, Kidney, and Stomach, also using vocal sounds. The pieces are intended to capture a version of imaginary but prudent sounds, much like taking a microscope and focusing the lens into singing, living cells.”

Also on Friday’s program are performances by artist, vocalist and electronic composer Melanie Jamison and Labotanica’s tireless curator, visual and sound artist Ayanna Jolivet McCloud.

There is a $5 cover charge for the show. All proceeds go to the musicians. Michelle Yom’s installation will be up October 1st through October 9th, 2010.

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Amos Elkana was one of the composers I found/heard/met almost a decade ago on the original grand experiment in social music-sharing, MP3.com. With an obsidian-like hardness, sheen and edge, his compositions grabbed me then and continue to do so now. Born in the U.S. but raised in Israel, then off to Europe and back to the U.S. to study, Amos pulls together strands of all these places, looking for where the roots tangle and grow together. But the other “root” I didn’t know about then was that Amos’ musical interests had started with jazz and guitar. It was only after coming to study jazz at the Berklee College that his course got redirected into composition.

Coming over to study at the same time was Amos’ long-time friend and musical partner, drummer/pianist Yaaki Levy. Yaaki had a similar career bouncing between Israel and the U.S., and though their paths diverged a bit over the years their friendship never did. Finally last year saw them able to hook up again musically, exploring improvisation as the duo Concoct Sonance. Together their experiences create a music with a real richness, depth and poise; these may be improvisations, but there’s a strong feeling of that composerly sense of a “piece”, not simply an event or string of events.

The duo has been gigging fairly regularly around Europe and Israel, and now they’ve come to NYC for a few concerts these next couple weeks: Friday July 2nd, 7:30pm they’ll be at The Tank (354 W. 45th Street between 8th and 9th); Wednesday July 7th, 9pm they’re playing Puppets Jazz Bar in Brooklyn (481 5th Ave); and Tuesday July 13th, 11:30 pm they’ll be found at Goodbye Blue Monday (1087 Broadway, Brooklyn).

I asked Amos to give a little background in his own words, and I pass them along here:

Yaaki and I both grew up in Jerusalem. We met back in high school through mutual friends and we have been making music together ever since. In 1987 we came together to the US to study at Berklee College in Boston. Yaaki as a drummer and I as a Guitar player. I later went on to study composition at NEC and in 1990 moved to Paris for a couple of years before returning to Israel in 1992. Yaaki left Boston after three years for New York and returned to Israel in 1994. About 10 years ago he moved back to New York and has been living there since.

In the past 20 years, Yaaki has been playing drums with other people while concentrating on  piano playing and composing for himself. Meanwhile, I have been occupied mainly by composing music for other people and playing guitar for myself. Yaaki, being a wonderful drummer, has been touring the world with singers and bands while developing his piano playing and composition skills on his own. I on the other hand kept playing the guitar on my own while composing and traveling around the world for the premieres of my own compositions. We always wanted to find time to play together as we did in the past, when we both used to live in the same place. Then an opportunity to do so presented itself last January when I came to New York. We went into the recording studio without knowing what we are going to play. The only thing we decided is not decide about anything! We don’t compose, arrange, rehearse or even talk about what we are going to play. We don’t even decide what instruments we will play and how. Our motto is Here and Now. This is total free improvisation. In the studio we just hit the record button and started to play with the instruments that we had around us. Some of the things we played on were not even instruments but noise makers of sorts.

What was so fantastic is that we immediately started communicating as if on the same exact wave length… We didn’t even have to listen to the recording because we felt such exhilaration after the sessions. There may be several reasons why this works, among them an intimate knowledge of one another as best friends for almost 30 years, common likes and dislikes in music and life, maybe even telepathic communication. We don’t know. But the fact is that we get amazing responses to our performances from audience members. Some say they feel as if we are one. Many say that they felt it hard to resist joining us in some way. Some say our music touches them in such a deep level that they cried most of the time… (Imagine, improvised contemporary experimental music having such an effect!). At the bottom line, I think we allow ourselves to have fun and have complete freedom. Not restricting ourselves to any genre or form. This approach works anywhere. Wether we play in Tel Aviv, New York or Berlin.

Right now we have about 30 to 40 recorded pieces. It is tempting to choose some of them and put them on a CD but on the other hand documenting freely improvised music that will never repeat itself… I don’t know… Maybe the approach should be just to perform as much as we can and have people attend the concerts instead of buying CD’s… Yet in order to get more gigs we need to put out a demo at least. The three performances we just did in Tel Aviv were recorded and I am going to upload those recordings to our web site very soon. One of the performances was also videotaped. Your comment about really hearing the “composer” in our approach is very interesting. It probably comes with the territory of being composers for such a long time… In 1989 when I applied for the Jazz department in NEC, I decided, instead of sending them a tape of me playing Jazz standards, to record an improvisation with Yaaki and to send that instead. The response I got from them is that they are willing to accept me and to even give me a big scholarship too but only for the composition department and not the Jazz department… This is one of the reasons why I became a composer.

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[Ed. — After many years in NYC but fresh to my own stomping ground of Houston, Chris Becker has offered to write some semi-regular musings on the new-music scene down thisaway. His own introduction:

In its March 2010 Global Ear column, The Wire magazine described Houston as “the weirdest and wildest of (Texas) cities” with a “rich tradition of unofficial and DIY art.” Speaking as a recent transplant from New York City (where I lived for twelve years), I can confirm that our British friends were on point with their analysis of H-Town. I am in my third month as a native, and only just beginning to take in the breadth and variety of Houston’s cultural scene– especially its music. Although I’m also enjoying the city’s classical music (Houston Grand Opera, Mercury Baroque) each dispatch I bring to you from Houston will focus on contemporary composition, improvised idioms, and works that integrate theatre, the visual arts, and/or dance. Inevitably, my love for rock, folk, blues, country, zydeco, and all out noise (Red Krayola, anyone?) will creep into future writing, the overall goal being to expand peoples’ perception (including my own) of where one can find innovative forward-thinking music.]

2009-2010 marks the sixth year that Houston’s contemporary ensemble and presenting organization Musiqa has presented its “loft” concert series at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. Each concert program is produced in conjunction with and inspired by a different exhibition. In May, CAMH debuted the show Hand + Made featuring works that blur the lines between craft (crochet, pottery, glass blowing) and performance. As a composer who has collaborated with clay and crochet artists (often in combination with dancers and improvising musicians), I dug the curatorial concept immediately and looked forward to hearing what pieces the composer founded and led Musiqa would choose for Hand + Made’s corresponding May 20th concert.

The concert took place at CAMH with the musicians surrounded by the artwork on display – including several elaborately designed and decorated “sound suits” by artist Nick Cave (a former dancer with Alvin Ailey’s troupe, not the singer with the Bad Seeds). I was happy to see people of all ages and filled CAMH’s space for this concert, using up all of the available benches and much of the floor space.

The program – performed by three percussionists (Craig Hauschildt, Alec Warren, and Blake Wilkins) included Clapping Music by Steve Reich, Panneaux en acier by Marcus Maroney (a beautiful and relatively new work for percussion soloist on various metals), Vinko Globokar’s primal piece of solo performance art Corporal (bravely and convincingly realized by a half naked Craig Hauschildt who was required to – among other actions – slap and strike parts of his body), and Ohko for three djembes by Iannis Xenakis. The performances were incredible, blurring the lines between what was composed, what was improvised, and where “music” as one might define it begins and ends. Musiqua’s program illuminated the creative interzone that is “in-between categories” where many of Hand + Made’s artists (and many Houstonians) reside.

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Artist and performer Yet Torres is responsible for the handmade design and packaging of the new double CD Screwed Anthologies: improvised music under the influence of DJ Screw featuring David Dove (trombone) and Lucas Gorham (guitar, lap steel). David and Lucas celebrated this CD release Sunday May 30th at Resonant Interval – a concert series (“Sideways Shows For A Straight Laced City”) that features Houston’s experimental, electronic and improvising artists. David is the director of Nameless Sound, a presenting organization that, in addition to bringing experimental musicians from around the world to Houston, offers music instruction to young people in the public schools, community centers, and homeless shelters. Screwed Anthologies is a “disjointed exhibition” initially conceived at Labotanica (an experimental laboratory for art and performance located in the historic Third Ward) featuring music and mixed media performances inspired by the “screwed and chopped” music of the formidable DJ Screw. The venue for the Resonant Interval performance was an empty storefront located a few doors away from a cool wine and beer bar with its own show on its walls of lovely and haunting photographs of New Orleans. Once again, the space was filled with people ready to take in the music.

Throughout David and Lucas’ set, excerpts of DJ Screw’s music were cued and superimposed over the sometimes (but not always) heavily processed sound of David’s trombone and Lucas’ lap steel and guitar. “Under the influence…” is the tag to this project, but legacy or homage did not seem to drive the actual improvising in performance (although both David and Lucas created sounds that harkened to the slow tempos, shifted pitches and soulful timbres of DJ Screw’s mixes). The disparate qualities of each sound (including the stray transmissions of DJ Screw) hung in the air like parts of a mobile (or a collection of Duchamp ready-mades) creating an experience where one seemed to hear each component to the music as an individual entity sitting in its own time and space, even as the music unfolded in the context of a duo (trio?) improvisation. The influence of Houston-born Pauline Oliveros was apparent, along with the sounds of Houston’s birds, traffic, and weather. I am excited to hear (via bootlegging or perhaps another CD-R or two…) how this music develops on the road. David and Lucas are currently touring Screwed Anthologies throughout the South and East Coast. You can get the tour dates here.

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Matthew Sperry

The beginning of June has taken on a certain meaning to the San Francisco Bay Area new music community, and every single one of us would erase that meaning if we could.  It’s once again time for the Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival, held every year around this time in memory of one of our own, lost to us in a tragic accident on June 5, 2003.

The eighth annual festival happens this week, and the theme is “Homegrown”, since organizers are taking a break from the out-of-town headliners who’ve graced the event each year up till now.

First up, on Thursday evening June 3rd, dozens of improvisers will convene in a Tag Team Trio Shift at the Luggage Store Gallery. Refereed by Matthew’s close friend John Shiurba, the performers will play continuously, but only three at a time.  The Luggage Store Gallery is located at 1007 Market Street near 6th Street in San Francisco, and donations will be accepted at the door — from $6.00 all the way up to any amount the donor desires.

On Saturday, June 5th, the somber date we all remember, the mood shifts to contemporary classicism, and the festival shifts to the other side of the bay.  Two precious handwritten scores from Matthew’s notebook — “Wadadaism” (1991) and “Veins” (1995) — will share the program with works by Anthony Braxton, Cornelius Cardew, and James Tenney, all of whom inspired and influenced Matthew.  The Bay Area’s renowned sfSound ensemble holds the reins of this concert at 21 Grand, located at 416 25th Street in Oakland. The same $6.00-to-infinity sliding donation scale applies.

All proceeds from the festival benefit the Matthew Sperry Memorial Fund, which is the new music community’s way of caring for Matthew’s surviving family in his absence.

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A number of  Sequenza 21 contributors and readers also populate the site ImprovFriday. It’s a web community that encourages sharing of improvisations, compositions with an element of improv, and recent compositional sketches at a series of web events run on … you guessed it, Fridays.

While this all sounds very free form, the group has specific guidelines for participation, found here. Employing these operating principles are a wide ranging group of spontaneous creators: diverse in style, outspoken yet constructive in critiquing each others’ work, but unified in ambitious music-making.

The community’s first compilation recording, ImprovFriday Vol. 1, is now available from online vendors Amazon and  iTunes.

For Sequenza 21 readers, the list of participants contains several of our ‘usual suspects:’ Steve Layton, David Toub, J.C. Combs, Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, and Bruce Hamilton. Included below are a few sound snippets for your preview.

Steve Layton: Spaceship

David Toub: Virtual Music 2

J.C. Combs: The Giant Eye of the Fifth Dimension

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The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this week.  On the final festival night, Saturday, September 19th, the program will include a special all-electronic performance of the opera I, Norton, by San Francisco Bay Area composer Gino Robair.

I, Norton is based on the proclamations of Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, who lived during the Gold Rush era in San Francisco. The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets.

Gino RobairGino Robair has created music for dance, theater, gamelan orchestra, radio, and television. His works have been performed throughout North America, Europe, and Japan. He was composer in residence with the California Shakespeare Festival for five years and served as music director for the CBS animated series The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. His commercial work includes themes for the MTV and Comedy Central cable networks. Robair is also one of the “25 innovative percussionists” included in the book Percussion Profiles (SoundWorld, 2001). He has recorded with Tom Waits, Anthony Braxton, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, John Butcher, Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald, Otomo Yoshihide, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, and Eugene Chadbourne, among many others. He is a founding member of the Splatter Trio and the heavy metal band Pink Mountain. In addition, he runs Rastascan Records, a label devoted to creative music.

S21: His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, is an “only in San Francisco” kind of personage.  What inspired you to make him into the central character of an opera?

GR: He’s the kind of complex character one needs for an opera. And I like the fact that he’s mythologized somewhat.

Although many people see him as this incoherent, homeless vagrant, I think the reality is that he was bright man who was determined to make a difference in a world that was hostile, confusing, and often out of control. We’re talking about the Old West, here!

Remember, he was a Jewish immigrant from South Africa. Try to imagine the culture shock he experienced arriving in mid-19th-century California during the Gold Rush. It makes total sense to me that he’d conclude that the only way to solve the problems in his new environment was to roll up his shirt sleeves and do the job himself.

Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ve only been living in New York City for a few years, but I already feel like there are times when I just simply take the city for granted. Or worse, I don’t take advantage of all that it has to offer. But I think what makes living here so exciting is the opportunity to accidentally stumble onto incredible events, or to go places expecting one thing and end up (pleasantly) at something totally and completely different.

This is exactly what happened yesterday afternoon as I wandered in to the World Financial Center Winter Garden during the third hour of “I Write the Songs.” All I knew was that the event was a drawing installation created by Suzanne Bocanegra, in collaboration with the Drawing Center, paired with spontaneous music composition featuring the FLUX Quartet. Even though I really had no idea what this description meant or what it would look like when I got there… it still sounded pretty cool.

I’m still so impressed with this brilliant idea; let me try to explain how it worked.

Walking through the Winter Garden, you went to one of several drawing stations, each equipped with loose sheets of printed music and colored pencils. You picked a page of music and colored or drew or wrote whatever came to mind, in any way you wanted. When done, the music was handed to a person on a ladder, who handed it off to be clipped to a high strung clothesline, which transported the pages to the stage.

Once on stage, the music was distributed to a member of the quartet, each of whom “played”/improvised what they saw on the page. The added bonus was that each musician had a TV monitor facing the audience, displaying the current page of music on their stand. Everyone could see what the performers saw at any moment—many people waiting excitedly to see their page played… Brilliant!

The sound for four performers playing this music all at once was not as cacophonous as one might imagine; and some clever “composers” asked quartet members to sit quietly and take a break, or to observe the player to their right. Once performed, the music was returned to the person on the ladder to be sent away on a different clothesline. At the end of the line, volunteers from the Drawing Center collected and hand-bound the music into books.

Suzanne’s installation created a 5-hour constant loop of new pages of drawings/music, traveling from “composer” to clothesline to performer and back to clothesline. I have no idea what Suzanne will do with the bound collections of music, but I’m sure she has thought of something fascinating.

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San Francisco’s Mission District, home of so much that is cool, is a natural neighborhood for the arts.  The San Francisco Community Music Center located at 544 Capp Street is the the Bay Area’s oldest community arts organization and San Francisco’s largest provider of low-cost, high quality music education.  In 2008, 2,300 students of all ages, ethnicities and income levels enrolled in Music Center programs and over 16,000 people enjoyed musical performances at no or low cost.

Starting this Sunday, the SFCMC will host the eighth annual Outsound New Music Summit, a festival which for all its success and longevity has somehow stayed the Bay Area’s best-kept secret.  Sunday night’s “Touch the Gear” expo is free and open to the public, featuring 20 individual artists and ensembles and their homemade, customized, and startling instruments and electronic rigs.  All of them will be set up and ready to show you, the audient, how to make music and noise like they do.

Four concert nights follow on the subsequent Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Artist Q & A sessions at 7:15 p.m. each evening set you up for performances starting at 8:00 p.m., starring:

  • Alicia Mangan & Spirit,  ROVA Saxophone Quartet, and Vinny Golia (solo and with locals in a mixed ensemble) in “Free Improvision/Free Composition”
  • Forms of Things Unknown, Peter Kolovos, Conure, Hans Fjellestad, and Thomas Dimuzio in “Industrial Soundscapes”
  • Jess Rowland & The Dreamland Puppet Theater, Kathleen Quillian & Gilbert Guererro, and Bonfire Madigan in “InterMedia”
  • Natto, Ghost In the House featuring Waterphone inventor Richard Waters, and Left Coast Improv Group in “Deep Listening and Introspection”

Full scheduling details and performer bios can be found in the online schedule. Tickets are available in advance from Brown Paper Tickets, or for $10.00 at the door.

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Tom NunnI’ve been working so hard today I’ve forgotten to eat, and it’s in that spirit of lightheadedness and poor impulse control that I share with you the following San Francisco Bay Area new music scene update.

The Lab’s 25th anniversary performance series is well underway, and in just one night, they’ll run the gamut of styles celebrating their audacious artistic vision.  On Thursday, July 2nd, Mills College’s own Chris Brown will curate and perform in a concert featuring Charles Johnson, Chad and Curtis McKinney, Tom Nunn and William Winant.

When Johnson et. al. take the stage, you’ll hear amplified string and percussion instruments tuned in just intonation, combined with analog electronics configured to create difference tones.  Chad and Curtis McKinney are twin brothers whose SuperCollider-based computer network music makes a tightly interwoven, visceral and strongly rhythmic combo. Chris Brown will put on his electroacoustic hat, teaming up with instrument inventor Tom Nunn to tangle with legendary percussionist William Winant.

If you can’ t make it this week, never fear, since the series will continue next week with Miya Masaoka and Tomas Phillips on Thursday, July 9th, and a multimedia event the next night with Nao Bustamante, Margaret Tedesco, and Cliff Hengst.  Performance artist Bustamante will embody 1940s Dominican movie starlet Maria Montez, using video and the body as a source of backdrop, narrative, and emotion, taking audiences on a journey all over the body and its bejeweled parts.

The Lab is conveniently located at 2948 16th Street, San Francisco, near the 16th and Mission BART station.  They’ll let you in for $8.00 at the door. For more information, call (415) 864-8855.

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The San Francisco Bay Area  has a unique way of celebrating the first day of summer.  Our most popular new music event, the Garden of Memory, comes around every summer solstice, and reliably attracts more than 1,000 visitors while creating a parking nightmare for miles in every direction.  In 2007 I was forced, like many attendees, to park in the nearby cemetery and accidentally backed over the curb.  I left my car there and hurried away apologizing profusely for actually driving over somebody’s grave.

Every year over 30 composers, improvisers, and sound-artists take over the columbarium at the Chapel of the Chimes, located at 4499 Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. The concert takes place on the summer solstice regardless of the day it falls on, and this year it’s Sunday, June 21st, starting at 5:00 p.m. and continuing until 9:00 p.m. or sundown, whichever comes first.

The first time I attended the Garden of Memory concert was also the first year I participated, though I wasn’t on the list of lucky featured performers.  In 2003 my friend Christi Denton was assigned a space in the columbarium, as all participating artists are, for her multi-speaker sound installation.  Recordings of me playing flute multiphonics, and giving a tarot card reading, were among those she looped for the installation, whose speakers hung above a collection of ferns in one of the columbarium spaces, like the fruit of a robot tree, filling the room with the disembodied voices and music of women.

Few new music events in this or any city are as family-friendly, visually stunning and sonically varied.  If you plan to spend your Sunday evening in the Garden of Memory, public transit is recommended.  Admission is $15.00 general, $10.00 for students and seniors, and $5.00 for kids under 12 (kids under 5 are free). Tickets are available at the door, or in advance from www.brownpapertickets.com.

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